NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Several years after two men were murdered in Trenton, a 27-year-old from New Brunswick who goes by the nickname “Charmin,” was indicted on charges he killed both as part of a criminal conspiracy involving a widespread underground prostitution business.
Now Wilmer Chavez Romero is facing the potential of being put to death by the federal government if convicted of the crime in a trial set to begin on January 3.
According to authorities, Chavez Romero appears to have been an enforcer within the criminal organization run a New Brunswick couple that first made news when they were charged with running brothels in six New Jersey cities in September 2014.
“The purpose of the enterprise, which primarily employed illegal aliens in brothels throughout New Jersey, was to promote prostitution, assist illegal aliens to enter the United States, harbor illegal aliens, and to commit murder, assault, and robbery,” said a statement from the federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.
“The enterprise expanded its territory and reputation through the use of intimidation, violence, threats of violence, assaults, and murder,” the statement continued.
Authorities said that Chavez Romero “acted at the direction of the leaders,” which are only refered to as “Individual 1” and “Individual 3” in the recent announcement.
Similarly, the murder victims were only identified by their initials, but it is apparent that they were Benito Escalante and Neemias Reyes-Gonzales, both of whom were killed following a raid on a South Clinton Avenue brothel.
Reyes-Gonzales had been arrested in the prostitution bust just two months prior to his death, which occurred in September 2012. While Escalante was not charged in the July 2012 raid, he was killed at the same home that had been raided six months later in Janaury 2013.
Though authorities did not name the leaders of the alleged criminal organization, it is apparent that authorities believe they are Juan Fredy Hernandez-Zozaya, age 38, and his wife, Elizabeth Rojas Rojas, age 35.
The couple, who reportedly has roots in New Brunswick, were hit with federal charges two years earlier, along with three other locals, in connection with two other killings in South Jersey.
Romero, Hernandez-Zozaya, and others “allegedly threatened, committed, attempted to commit, and assisted in the commission of murder, assault, and robbery,” reads the ICE press release. “The purpose of these alleged crimes was to thwart rival brothels, exact revenge, punish enterprise members and associates who had been disloyal, and silence people they believe were cooperating with law enforcement.”
Chavez Romero, who had not previously been charged, now faces the following federal charges:
- racketeering conspiracy
- assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering
- conspiracy to harbor aliens resulting in death
- using a firearm for a violent crime (two counts)
- murder in aid of racketeering (two counts)
If convicted of any of the most serious charges, Chavez Romero will face either life in prison or the death penalty. Each count is also punishable by a $250,000 fine.
New Jersey outlawed the death penalty a decade ago for its own court system, but it can still be used in federal criminal cases.
The case against these people began with a March 2011 raid of three brothels located in New Brunswick, located at 298 Handy Street, 191 Comstock Street, and 301 Townsend Street.
Local police also began investigating the two murders in Trenton, and eventually, the two subsequent slayings in Bridgeton.
The Bridgeton murders were allegedly committed by other members of the same organization during the summer of 2014.
As we reported at the time, authorities rounded up four men from New Brunswick and Somerset, in connection with the deaths of 24-year-old Jose Ortiz, who authorities say was likely killed over a “business problem” at one of the couple’s brothels in Bridgeton, and 32-year-old Eduardo Bernal may have been killed for allegedly running a competing brothel just two weeks later.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.